With so many indie platformers bursting onto the scene with aspirations of becoming the next Braid or Limbo, it can be tough for a game to stand out and separate itself from its less spectacular brethren. Still, with eye catching art direction, simple but engaging mechanics and enough substance to keep people playing, a game can still stand out within the ever crowded indie scene.
SpeedRunners, a new superhero-themed speedrunning platformer (who’d have thought?) from the folks at DoubleDutch Games does exactly that. Combining a simple aesthetic with minimalistic, fast paced gameplay, SpeedRunner is seriously intense fun.
Unlike some speedrunning games that feature single player time trial gameplay as well as multiplayer options, SpeedRunners is a solely multiplayer experience. Although that might turn off the more introverted gamers among us (myself included), the merits of the choice to omit single player becomes clear once you start up a race.
Simply put, SpeedRunners is a game in which two to four players (local co-op and online multiplayer available with controller support) take on the monikers of over the top fictional superheroes and race each other around a course until only one player remains on the screen. As such, everyone can see the same screen, and the idea is to travel so fast that the players who can’t keep up are edged off the screen entirely, scoring a point for the leading player. A player must score at least three victories to win a game, and if no one scores any points within a certain amount of time, the screen begins to shrink, making the races even more nail-bitingly intense.
Courses are full of traps, obstacles, and weapons (droppable crates, grapples to pull opponents backwards, rockets etc); all of which must be utilized to their full potential in order to gain the upper hand against opponents. All of this culminates in races that are excruciating as much as they are exciting. Everyone is trying the nastiest tricks they can to thwart their rivals, resulting in some seriously compelling (yet never unfair or unbalanced) multiplayer racing.
Whilst the racing and terrain design is reminiscent of the speedrunning segments in games like Rayman Origins, and the weapon pick-ups are clearly inspired by mascot racing games like Mario Kart, one of the stand out elements of SpeedRunners is it’s grappling mechanic, which feels like a 2-D version of the beloved web swinging from Spider-Man 2. Players can grapple and swing from designated high points to take a faster (albeit sometimes more risky) high route across the course.
With its silver-age comics inspired character and level designs, SpeedRunners is also a joy to look at. The landscapes players can traverse are striking and colourful without being distracting or intrusive, and although at this point in the game’s beta there are only four levels to choose from, there is actually a surprising amount of depth and replayability on offer in them.
Without a doubt the finest and most memorable aspect of SpeedRunners is its fantastic character designs that manage to poke fun at silver age comic book characters whilst simultaneously paying homage to them. Again, there are only four to choose from at this point in time, but when those choices are Unic (a flamboyant, pink-clad man with a unicorn horn on his head), SpeedRunner (the game’s mascot who looks like one of the brief cameo superheroes from The Incredibles), Hothead (a character who resembles Aku-Aku from Crash Bandicoot) and Cosmonaut Comrade (who looks like a communist re-skin of Mysterio) I’m pretty confident in assuming that DoubleDutch won’t skimp on more brilliant designs in the future. Similar care and attention has also gone into animating these characters fluidly and smoothly, to the point where every campy jump and slide made me chuckle a little.
In its current state, SpeedRunners might not set the world on fire, but it’s certainly a well-crafted, finely polished platformer that combines elements from other games and comic books with fresh ideas of its own. Thanks to its simplistic nature though; it never buckles under the weight of its own ambition. At its core, SpeedRunners is a great laugh, and some of the most fun I’ve had with competitive multiplayer in a long while; a campy, funny and refreshing break from gritty shooters and realistic racers.
SpeedRunners is available now on Steam Early Access, with an as of yet undermined full release date. I for one cannot wait to continue the adventures of Unic and Hothead.